With the holidays approaching here’s a question: how much do we really know about the products that we are purchasing? With every fair-trade product, there is a person, and there is a story. Seeking to understand the deeper meaning behind fair-trade products this holiday season, I, a Women’s Peace Collection intern, had the privilege of chatting with Anne Kelly of Mayan Hands. Mayan Hands is a fair-trade nonprofit organization that is dedicated to providing economic opportunities to over 200 Mayan women in 15 communities in the Guatemalan Highlands. They supply Women’s Peace Collection with unique pine needle baskets, which are emblematic of Mayan culture and economic prosperity for Mayan women. In addition, Mayan Hands provides Women's Peace Collection with wool animals created by women in Guatemala, who are earning fair wages while learning computer and business skills along the way.
The mission of Mayan Hands is to provide economic and educational opportunities for women in poverty. The organization also looks to support women in order to preserve Mayan culture and heritage. There are a half million weavers in Guatemala and the role of Mayan Hands is to help these weavers access the market with the true cost of their products. This exposure to the United States’ economy helps Mayan women feed their families by providing them the opportunity to earn month to month income.
So, who are these women? The artisan are Mayan women living in the Guatemalan Highlands throughout 15 cooperatives. These women have experienced a lot of discrimination and racism on the grounds of language, culture, and sex. Understanding the trauma that they have endured, the goal is to empower these women and lift them out of poverty. The Mayan partners bring a variety of skills to the American marketplace and they are master weavers.
While pine needle basketry is a traditional skill in Guatemala, Mayan Hands was able to send teachers from San Francisco that worked with the women to enhance their practice by teaching them how to stitch. The educational efforts have paid off, as represented by the exquisite and unique baskets Women’s Peace Collection is featuring. While the success of this product has been rewarding, it is the long -term relationships that have made an impact. To celebrate the story behind every artisan, each pine needle basket features a signed hang tag. With every product being signed by the woman who made it, the culture and experiences of the artisan partners is honored.
When talking to Kelly about the baskets, one story came to mind. She spoke of an artisan named Cecilia Chiroy. and to the heart and persistence behind her practice. Chiroy has been a leader amongst artisans in Guatemala. In an effort to speak with someone from Mayan Hands, Chiroy knocked on the door four times before she was able to connect with someone. “We want to make baskets” she said. Since then, Chiroy has played a critical role in the success of this partnership. She checks to make sure artisans are on track with orders, and will even assist those who need some help.
Beyond the baskets, daughters of artisans who are partnered with Mayan Hands are eligible for scholarships. Many of the artisans will point out that their children going to school is the most important thing to them. While the pine needle baskets make for a thoughtful gift, they are so much more. These baskets are the embodiment of economic and educational opportunities for so many women. Each basket tells a story. Each basket makes a difference. Happy holidays and a huge thank you to Anne Kelly from Mayan Hands for sharing the stories of these artisans!